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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Symbol of glory restored for Olympic medalist

Back in the day when Margaret Matthews was blazing fast afoot, she helped the USA women’s team run down a bronze metal at the Melbourne, Australia Olympics. For 40 years, she had no medal to reflect that historic run.

That scenario changed shortly before Christmas when Matthews, now Margaret Matthews-Wilburn and a Memphis fixture, got a stunning surprise – a replacement medal courtesy of the International Olympic Committee and a determined goddaughter, Dr. Rochelle Stevens.

The ’56 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia. The USA women’s 4X4 100-meter relay team finished third (44.9) in a close finish behind Great Britain and the Australian team that won the gold medal with a time of 44.5 seconds.

The U.S. fielded the team of Isabelle Daniels, Mae Faggs, Margaret Matthews and Wilma Rudolph. Matthews-Wilburn is the mother of former Washington Redskins player Barry Wilburn and was a devoted to public education for 35 years.

Forty years ago, while sharing her success story and passing her Bronze Medal around during a school assembly, the medal was stolen. Stevens, a two-time Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist, is Matthews-Wilburn’s goddaughter. Last January, two women were being interviewed for a television show when Stevens learned of the missing medal.

Devastated, Stevens contacted the United States Olympic Committee, Cindy Stinger and the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland to see what could be done. After 11 months of investigation, the IOC voted to replace the missing bronze medal.

Last Sunday (Dec. 23) during regular church services at Word of Life Healing Ministry at 2869 Mendenall, Stevens and Pastor Beatrice Holloway (an Olympic coach and Stevens’ mother) presented Matthews-Wilburn with the Olympic medal during a medal ceremony.

“Thank God,” Matthews-Wilburn said, unaware of the goal that Stevens had been pursuing. “This is such an honor.”

Stevens is calling the medal a holiday miracle.

“I was like, I’m not going to wait until Christmas,” Stevens said.

“I, too, used to let people hold my medal and put it around their neck. But from now on out my medal is staying around my neck and you can look at it from afar.”

A native of Griffin, Ga., Matthews-Wilburn was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and continues to promote the sport of track and field on a regular basis.

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